Best known as a gateway town to Central Europe, Trieste is more than worth a visit in its own right. If you only have a couple of days to spare, here’s how to spend your 48 hours in Trieste, Italy.
All too often forgotten or overlooked, Trieste in Italy’s far north-eastern corner, with its fascinating blend of cultures, is still very much Italian at its heart.
Like the last house at the end of the street, Trieste is perched on a thin Italian spur that protrudes into Slovenia and almost to Croatia’s Istrian peninsula. For many years, the ownership of this sliver of land was hotly contested and was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
In fact, many of the older residents of Trieste speak two languages: Triestino dialect and German.
For us, Trieste has a special place in our hearts. Not only because Italy is our favourite place to visit, but also because Christina’s father was born in this port city. We’ve been to Trieste a number of times over the years, but every time we find something new.
But thanks (or not) to its proximity to Slovenia and Croatia, and to Venice of course, Trieste isn’t always given the credit it should.
Having said that, flights to Trieste are more regular and cheaper than to Ljubljana, Pula or Venice. And then it’s only a quick drive or train onwards.
But if you have time to look around Trieste, there’s so much to see, do and eat. Here’s our guide to how to spend 48 hours in Trieste, Italy.
Here’s our quick video of Trieste to give you a taste of things to come in this guide:
How to spend 48 hours in Trieste, Italy
10 things to do in Trieste
North from the city along the Barcola – the esplanade that runs along the shores of the Bay of Trieste – is the beautiful 19th Century Castello di Miramare. This gleaming white castle hangs off the cliffs over the crystal blue of the Adriatic.
The castle, which built for the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand – whose assassination began WWI, is now a museum. The gardens are immaculately maintained and are worth exploring.
2. Walk through the Piazza Unita d’Italia
The main piazza of Trieste is a focal point of the old town ‘Borgo Teresiano’. By day, it’s full of life and the buildings surrounding this square are impressive and imposing. By night, as the cool air from the Adriatic washes in, the piazza becomes peaceful, romantic and somehow even more beautiful.
3. Teatro Romano
Trieste has its share of Roman ruins. The Teatro Romano is a small amphitheatre that dates back almost 2000 years. It’s still used for occasional performances, but even empty it’s an impressive sight.
4. Museo del Castello di San Giusto
The Museo del Castello di San Giusto a couple of streets behind the amphitheatre was built over the course of 150 years between the late 1400s and early 1600s. For a few euros, you can explore the fort’s walls from the top, the crypts beneath and learn about the early history of the city.
5. Walk the Grand Canal and spot James Joyce
Irish author James Joyce spent his formative years in Trieste and the town hasn’t forgotten. Especially along the Grand Canal, you’ll find many a nod to the famed writer, who originally came to Trieste to teach English.
The free museum of the writer. But you’ll also find the footbridge that spans the Grand Canal named after him, the full-size statue of him by the canal, and bars and restaurants using his name.
One of our favourites is the James Joyce Café, which serves up some excellent cocktails and food.
6. Summer baths by the marina at Bagno Ausonia
These cute old-school baths on the beach are the perfect spot for a cooling dip on a hot day. They’re segregated – men’s and women’s bathing – but worth a visit even for a quick look.
7. Ponterosso Markets
These daily markets have been going for over 200 years. On the banks of the Grand Canal, the stalls here offer a range of things from clothes to fresh fruit and veg, and the opportunity for some hot snacks too.
8. Explore the Città Vecchia
Città Vecchia – the old district by the sea – is Trieste’s medieval heart. Wandering around these narrow streets gives you a real feel for the city. The whole area from the port and back behind the Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia is from the 12th – 14th Centuries. You can see Venetian and Austrian influences in the old buildings that fill the quarter.
9. Live the Borgo Teresiano
Borgo Teresiano – the modern quarter of the city – rises up above most of the old town of Trieste and is altogether modern. But being Italian, this town still retains the charm you come to expect from this beautiful country.
Stop in a café or pop into one of the many osterias for a bite to eat and soak up the life of this very much real-life city.
10. Drink in the café scene
With Illy Coffee coming from Trieste, the café scene here is amazing. Stop in at any number of the little shops around town for an espresso at the bar. And if you find ordering coffee in Italy tricky, here are our tips on how to do it.
If you have more time
Ride the Trieste-Opicina Tramway
The funicular tram that climbs the karst up to the little town of Villa Opicina east of Trieste is a lovely thing to do, though could a day trip in itself. If you have the extra time to do this, you’ll be rewarded with views out over Trieste and the Adriatic.
Gorizia food festival
Over 3 days at the end of September each year is one of the most magnificent examples of an Italian food festival you’re likely to find.
In the outlying town of Gorizia, which in fact straddles the border of Slovenia and Italy, Gusti di Frontiera fills streets with a world of food. Here’s more from our visit to Gusti di Frontiera.
Our advice: go there hungry.
Spend the day in Muggia
Pronounced ‘Moojya’, this little town in the extreme south-east of the Bay of Trieste. It’s been here since around 800BC and has many of the same influences on its architecture as Trieste.
Its little marina makes for a very picturesque setting as you pull in on the Green Dolphin Ferry – a 40-minute cruise from Trieste’s port.
Where to eat in Trieste
A beautiful streetside restaurant in the pedestrianised part of Borgo Teresiano, Giovanni and next door neighbours Caffe Russian offer classic Triestino and national delicacies like sardines frito, chargrilled squid and pasta sepia.
Caffe San Marco – coffee & snacks
It’s easy to imagine secret meetings of activists and intellectuals happening here in the 1920s, when this beautiful café was built. Its vaulted ceilings and ornate art deco finishings have been lovingly restored after this irredentist hub was destroyed by Austrian soldiers in WWI.
These days it’s the perfect spot to relax over a coffee and a snack mid-afternoon when you’ve been exploring all day.
Emulating its New York parent, this food hall, delicatessen, bar and restaurant offers not only a great range of food but also unique views of Trieste marina from its enormous picture windows.
Go upstairs for the full menu (though it’s often busy) or downstairs for meat and cheese platters for a lighter bite.
One of the most local restaurants you’ll find in the old town of Trieste. The menu’s all in Italian, so make sure you have your Google Translate app ready (download Italian onto your phone first then you can take a picture of the menu and translate it super fast).
The menu changes every day or every week depending on how the chef feels, but everything on it will be excellent. If you get the chance to try the gnocchi di susini – a dish Christina and her family grew up with.
Large potato gnocchi stuffed with a tiny plum (or with plum jam) then covered in a hot sugar, cinnamon and breadcrumb sauce. Believe it or not, this is a main course dish not a dessert!
Probably the best known and loved gelataria in the city, Zampolli makes exquisite ice cream, gelato and sorbet. Always busy with everyone from school kids to suits, the line will give you time to choose your flavours.
And here’s Christina’s explanation of the difference between ice cream and gelato if you’re not sure. She also lets you into the secret of how to order gelato in Italy. And if you’re not sure whether to get a cup or a cone, here are our views on the matter.
Probably the most famous and longest standing buffet restaurant in Trieste, Pepi’s buffet lunch of roasts is a much-loved favourite.
Buffet does not mean buffet in Italy. You won’t get trays of pre-cooked bain maries where you help yourself. Here you’re served (usually) slices of meat the kitchen has, a hunk of bread and a glass of wine.
Pizza isn’t quite the same in Trieste. In fact, when Christina’s dad left Italy to come to Australia, the dish hadn’t even made its way to Trieste.
However, these days locals recommend Vulcania and Barattolo for a slice of the good stuff. Thin and crispy is the call of the day, though in general, I think Trieste does an excellent calzone.
Where to stay in Trieste
There are so many options for accommodation in Trieste, but hotels tend to be quite expensive (which is Europe all over). But AirBnB in Italy is awesome. The place we stayed in recently was in the heart of town, came with its own kitchen and was perfect.
However, if you’ve got your heart set on a hotel in Trieste, here’s a shortlist of hotels in the town for you to choose from.
Have you been to Trieste before? Do you have any tips for things to do in this beautiful northern city? Tell us in the comments!